I’m guessing that one portion of every writer’s bookshelf is reserved for their (probably extensive) collection of books on the craft of writing. This might even be true for devoted readers. Before I really seriously considered pursuing a writing life, I already owned several I’m sure. Sitting on my shelf now is an assortment ranging from Maira Kalman’s illustrated version of Strunk & White’s “Elements of Style” to “You CAN Write Books,” from a series entitled Valuable Instruction at a Great Price.
But recently, there have been two books that I’ve leaned on to help me make the transition from student to part-time writer: Elizabeth George’s “Write Away” and Bruce Holland Rogers’ “Word Work”. Okay, a confession. I met and had the privledge of working with both of these inspirational writers at the Whidbey Writers Workshop, so perhaps I am biased. But perhaps not. Maybe they’re just darn good books. Here’s why.For the last month or so, I’ve see-sawed back and forth between these two volumes, and although they each take a vastly different approach to shining a hard light on the craft of writing, I’ve found that they work quite well in tandem, at least for me.
Although I’m not a crime detective novel fan, Elizabeth George’s advice and insight in “Write Away” is applicable for any genre. Her process might be far too elaborate for my scatter shot approach, but it was understandable and logical, and it clarified some sore spots for me and somehow, simply reading it calmed me. I particularly liked her observation that she knows she’s stumbled onto a story that she’ll be able to sustain interest in writing when she realizes that along the way there will be the chance to learn something new in the course of researching and writing it.
At the other end of the craft-writing spectrum is Rogers’ “Word Work”, a collection of 35 short essays on various aspects of the writer’s craft. Like Rogers’ short stories and flash fiction, these essays are smart and perceptive and each offers refreshing insights on topics as varied as “The Difficulties of Beginnings,” “The Hazards of Writing Workshops,” and “Writers and Lovers.” In his introduction, Rogers writes, “There’s very little [in these essays] that will show you how to write better. Instead, this is a book about how you can more thoroughly, more happily, more productively be a writer.”
You might consider taking a look at your bookshelf and seeing if you can find a little more space—just enough to fit these two more volumes.